How do you successfully prepare a meal?
I’m not talking about a huge Thanksgiving meal for a crowd of 20 on the one hand or a meal that you slapped together at the last minute from the contents of your refrigerator or with take-out food on the other. I mean almost all the meals in between. What about successfully preparing a meal for one (cook for yourself - you deserve it), or a dinner for family or roommates in a group house, or for friends you invite over?
First of all, what constitutes meal preparation success?
I don't set the bar too high.
My 3 criteria for meal preparation success are simple:
- I’m not a wreck and maybe even feel contented as I put it on the table
- everything came out reasonably well or better; and
- the meal works as a whole.
How to get from barely knowing how to boil an egg to preparing a meal? I don’t know anyone who has done it in 14 days like some fad diet plan, and you’re unlikely to go from a standing stop to 60 mph without a few bumps in the road. I do think anyone can do it without going completely insane, spending tons of money, or devoting most of one’s free time to achieving the goal.
If you have a reasonable amount of motivation and patience, try using these 10 rules as a roadmap. At first, following them may slow you down. But over time, they’ll become second nature and will guide you toward an achievable and well-organized approach that will make your family and friends envious of your composure and results. Sound like a plan?
Although I call them rules, they aren’t rigid requirement-type laws. Think of them as a 10-step approach. You can follow some of them all the way, and take others with a grain of salt. Plenty of confident cooks take shortcuts or violate some of these rules routinely and nothing bad happens to them or their meals. While I’ve been known to be a short-cutter, when I have a cooking disaster, it’s usually because I didn’t follow 1 or more these rules.
Today I’ll give you the rules and then take up each one separately in the coming weeks. If they seem too obvious to you, then either you’re a great cook already or you’re forgetting that the 10 commandments are pretty simple too. Keep in mind that plenty of politicians (and a few other people I can think of) still have trouble taking those simple rules into practice.
My 10 rules for meal preparation success
- Be realistic but brave
- Plan the meal, not just the dish
- Keep to your meal budget
- Read recipes, completely and all the way through before you decide whether to use them
- Ingredients & equipment matter
- Gather equipment & ingredients, clear space before starting
- Minimize distractions while you cook
- Timing is (almost) everything
- Presentation matters – a lot
- Have fun!